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Putin’s Image as a Leader

The Streetwise Professor has put up a new interesting blog post, including a kind mention of this blog, about something that both Vladimir Putin and Joseph Stalin share – an enduring popularity in the face of repeated mistakes:

It is only fitting, then, that the cult of Stalin as a Great Leader is metastasizing in Russia. Stalin was arguably not only the greatest mass murderer in history, but the greatest blunderer. Read any account of Stalin’s policy vis a vis Germany in 1939-1941, or of the the early months of the Nazi invasion in 1941, and you will be staggered by the magnitude of Stalin’s errors large and small. (Of recent books, Niall Ferguson’s War of the World or Andrew Nagorski’s The Greatest Battle are quite good on the subject. Paul Johnson’s Modern Times is somewhat older, but also quite damning–and accurate–in its assessment of Stalin. See Liddell Hart’s, J.F.C. Fuller’s or John Keegan’s histories of WWII for indictments of Stalin’s handling of the opening phases of Barbarossa.) There were errors in tactics. Errors in strategy. Errors in personal judgment (e.g, Stalin’s quite inexplicable trust in Hitler). And these errors cost literally millions of lives–and not just Soviet lives. By dealing with Hitler, and supplying his armies with fuel and grain, Stalin freed Germany to attack west with impunity. As Ferguson puts it, all that saved the Soviet Union from Stalin’s colossal errors were Hitler’s equally colossal misjudgments. (…) By comparison to Stalin and his stupendous mistakes, Putin is a piker in the blunder department. But there is an eerie parallel. Despite their blunders, they are viewed as visionary and effective leaders. A combination of intimidation (obviously far more extreme in Stalin’s case), relentless propaganda, and to no small degree, a willing suspension of disbelief by the Russian people, has sufficed to obscure their myriad failures with a mirage of power and brilliance.